7. BearMature

In a few days Willow was cleared to return to her pack. And we were debating on leaving.

Not that I wanted to leave. I like being a part of a big group. Even if they hadn't let me go outside yet.

Vivian was blunt, but pleasant to talk to. And she knew the area like the back of her hand.

"Your welcome to stay as long as you like." She had told us, her yellow eyes bright and cheerful.

But not all of us wanted to stay.

"We should go." Jasper argued. "They have done plenty for us, let's not be a burden."

"But we are safe here, aren't we?" Faline asked, looking up at her brother.

Salem glanced at me before answering. "I agree with Jasper. They have already done so much for us."

"We would be better to leave, I agree. We've been here to long as it is." Rusty gave me the same guarded glance Salem had, his eyes refusing to give up any emotion. Was this about Bear? I had told them about talking to him when he had shown me the way to Willow, and Salem almost lost it.

"You were wandering around at four in the morning with a guy that you don't know anything thing about?!" He had shouted, his eyes blazing.

"Faline's right, we're safe here." Brooke said, glaring at her older brother.

Leo nodded. "I agree. We should stay and help out. They saved us, we need to repay them."

Shade frowned. I could see the thoughts that circled behind those gray eyes.

I didn't really want to leave, but this was still my pack, my family. What they did, I did, where they went, I followed. It didn't matter. I would do anything to stay with my family.

But what about Bear? A little voice in my head asked. Are you willing to leave him before you know anything?

"Echo?" I looked up at Shade, his gray eyes full to the brim with questions. "What is your call."

I looked at Willow. "I would rather stay and learn more about this place..."  I smiled. "But I will follow my pack anywhere, no matter the ruling."

Shade sighed, his gray eyes suddenly dull. "Then it is decided. We leave as soon as Willow is well enough to travel..."

"I'm fine!" Willow snapped. "I'm perfectly capable of traveling!"

Jasper shook his head. "You were beat up pretty bad, my friend, you need to heal."

Willow's eyes blazed with an unguarded temper. Ever since Willow had found out that Jasper had called her his mate they hadn't been on speaking terms. Jasper wavered under her gaze. It was amazing how badly he wanted her to forgive him.

I stood up and started to walk away, my mind clogged with questions.

"Where are you going, Echo?" Little Faline asked as I walked past her.

"Just to wander..." I shrugged, slipped out the door.

The halls within the Den were so twisted and with so many it was easy to get lost, even if you did know your way around. And soon. I was lost. Nothing looked familiar down this hall and it seem deserted in every meaning of the word.

The lights were only half lit and a couple were  broken and burnt out. Cobwebs stuck to every crevice they could find and dust covered every inch of the tables scattered around the hall. The well-worn path that was the floor looked unused, like no one had stepped foot in this hall for years.

Every door I reached for left my hand covered in dirt and refused to open. I got the slightest feeling I shouldn't be down here, but it caught my curiosity so strongly that I couldn't help it. I moved deeper into the darkness of the hall.

There must have been roughly twenty doors, all locked, and the ancient hall ended in a dead end with two large oak doors with heavy, corroded door handles. I gave the handles a tug, but there was no point. Locked tight.

"Hm..." I ran my hand over the dusty door, knocking off the cobwebs as high as I could reach. Through the dirt and grim a set of golden eyes shone as the half light caught it.

A glorious owl was etched into the wood and next to it, a wolf. I needed a chair.

There down the hall. Grabbing it and dragging it to where I needed it, I climbed on top, clearing away more of the dirt that clouded the image. A bear and a hawk were carved into the tops of the doors.

"The four strongest forms."

I turned around at the sound of the voice, almost falling off the rickety old chair.

Bear smiled, arms crossed over his chest, his pale eyes scanning the doors.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, jumping down from the chair to stand in front of him.

He shrugged. "Just walking. You?"

"Same." I looked up at the door over my shoulder. "Beautiful, isn't it?"

"Yeah."

"Are they really the four strongest?"

"Of  the forest lands, yeah."

I looked at him. "But aren't eagles bigger than hawks?"

He chuckled. "Well, yeah, sometimes, but certain eagles are banned forms."

"Like?"

"Well, the Bald Eagle is the main one. A long time ago a foolish young Shifter became an eagle, but it's natural will was so much stronger than his own that he could never return to human form."

"Aren't bears a powerful form?"

he nodded. "It always came naturally to me though. I've always been a bear."

I nodded looking up at the door one more time. "Can I ask you something?"

"Shoot."

"Can I go outside?" I felt like a child when I looked up at him, my hands folded behind my back.

He smiled, his green eyes sparkling. "Come on, it's a nice day out."

He navigated the halls quickly and quietly and before I knew it we were leaving the hidden cave and were out in the sunlight.

It felt wonderful on my skin, the warmth, the fresh air all around me. I just wanted to run and romp and play. Smiling, I turned to looked at Bear, his eyes locked on me, an amused gleam shining in the pale depths.

I suddenly felt exposed in my blue jean cut offs and the tight tee. I blushed and walked around, enjoying the freedom of the forest around me, the smell of the sea on the breeze.

"Can we go to the beach?" I asked him, nervous to go alone.

"Sure." He gave me a playful smile before shrinking into a gorgeous red-tailed hawk, only the normal brown of the feathers were snow white.

I shifted, my bone and muscle tearing, breaking , adjusting, healing. Silver fur covered me from nose to tail, my hands becoming paws three times bigger. My hearing sharpened, I could hear for miles. My nose picked up the smallest traces of trails. I felt my spine lengthen, my bushy silver tail forming.

Throwing back my head I howled, my voice echoing off the trees and rocks, sounding for miles upon miles. I was a wolf once again and I was ready to run.

"Race you!" I called to the hawk, circling above me, my sturdy paws carrying me across the forest floor like I was flying, my nose following the smell of salt water.

The breeze in my fur, the freedom of running , the feel of the sun. The underground life was not for me.

I heard the hawk call out far above me as he flew above the trees. He seemed to be laughing at me.

I put on more speed, my heart pounding in my chest, my lungs burning, but I wouldn't give up. I burst into a clearing through the bushes.

And stopped as quick as i could.

A shot gun was raised towards me and the Hunter's scent reached my nose. Dominic.

I turned to run, scared he would try and kill me this time.

"Wait!" I heard the click of the safety. "I want to talk to you."

Growling, I bared my teeth, my fur brushed out and standing on end.

He threw the gun away, pulling out his pistol and doing the same. "Please, Callista... I just want to talk." He held up his hands.

Slowly, I relaxed, shifting human. "What do you want."

"Please understand, this is our one and only chance. Once one of us leaves this clearing, I have to return to my job. It's what I was raised to do."

I nodded, my heart hard. "You were going to kill me."

He looked away. "It's my job Callista."

"That is no longer my name." I snapped.

"Then what is your name?"

"Why should I tell you? You'll use it against me."

"You're my sister. Give me one last chance to know her." He pleaded.

"Echo." I said softly. "My name is Echo."

"Echo." He flinched. "A true Shifter name."

"That would be because I am a true Shifter, Dominic. Get past it. Your sister is a Shifter."

"And your bother is a Hunter."

I glared at him. What was the point of this? What did he want from me?

"Echo," He stumbled over the words. "Echo, why did you run?"

"To protect my family."

"They betrayed their kind to protect a monster."

I snarled, the words biting into my heart. "You've always had your place, Dominic. You've always had your friends friends and your life was never questioned. You've never been an outsider. You had your special school, your Hunter friends. You have no idea how scared I was when they came home with you. I was always in danger"

It seemed to dawn on him how much I had gone through, carrying such a life changing secret around for so very long.

"You were trained to spot Shifters from a very young age, you knew the signs. Did you really not notice?"

His eyes gave away nothing, his face stone cold. He had failed as a hunter and he knew it. He hadn't spotted my nature early on and I had gone so long undetected. It was a point of shame.

"Why didn't you just tell me?" He asked, his voice cracking. "You're my little sister, it's my job to protect you."

"My protection and your job are in conflict with each other." I knew Bear would be wondering where I was. "I have to go..."

"Echo." He grabbed my wrist, his brown eyes full of concern, compassion and grief. Here was the brother I had known so long ago. "I was the only one to survive our meeting the other day. Was that because of you?"

"No..." I closed my eyes. "We are not killers by nature. If your men died, it was because you provoked us. None of us want to kill. We just want to survive."

"Are you safe? In the place where you are, are you safe?"

I smiled and nodded. "I've finally found where I belong."

He gave me a weak smile and let go, stepping away. Turning away, I shifted, returning to my silver wolf, slipping through the bushes with out a noise.

Bear was waiting just beyond the bushes, his green eyes sharp. "You ok?"

"Yeah." I gave him a wolfy grin.

He ruffled his snowy feathers and spread his wings. "Come on, the beach is waiting." He took to the sky, his wings carrying him away easily.

Letting out an excited bark I followed the smell of the sea on the breeze.

The End

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